Category Archives: Google Software

Not Using Google Shortcuts? Here’s What You’re Missing

The following article was originally posted September 6, 2010.

Comments from readers:

I have to say that is such a great plugin. It is so customizable and puts all the Google services at one place. I can even remove the separate plugins I have for Gmail and reader.

Great find, Bill. I’m going to be putting this to good use!

Looks fabulous Bill. I removed the Google Toolbar from Firefox as it refused to untick some checkboxes, so this could be a great substitute.

imageDespite my personal view that Google trashes personal privacy rights, I continue to use a fairly large number of Google services, including Gmail, Google Reader, Maps, Calendar, and so on.

Until now, I’ve used my Bookmarks menu in Firefox to access these services, since this method is very convenient. But, when I came across the Google Shortcuts extension for Firefox, all that changed.

An  add-on that can display over 160 Google services as buttons next to the address bar, or in a one-click popup menu, is a sure fire winner with me. And Google Shortcuts for Firefox, or Chrome, can do that – and more.

Adding this extension to either Firefox, or Chrome, is accomplished in the usual manner that most of us are familiar with (you’ll find the download links at the end of this article).

Following installation, I jumped right in – setting up the extension to best serve my particular needs.

You can place your most commonly used Google services as buttons beside the address bar in Firefox, as the following screen capture indicates. This seems like an awkward way to display – eats up a lot of screen real estate.


The option of using a dropdown menu option instead, as I’ve done here, is a better alternative – at least for me.


The number of services available is really astonishing. In fact, there are services listed here that I was completely unaware of. Hopefully, G+ will be added shortly.


Additional control options are available on the advanced options setting screen.


Requirements: Firefox 2.0 – 6.*, or Chrome

Download at: Mozilla or Google Chrome Extensions

For super convenience, this is one of the better Firefox add-ons I’ve come across – I highly recommend it.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, Chrome, Chrome Add-ons, Cloud Computing Applications, downloads, Firefox, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google, Google Chrome, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Software, Windows Tips and Tools

Google Redesigned – Dress Up Your Google Services


I’m a “skin man”. For example, I’m a big fan of the Firefox add-on Personas Plus, which brightens my dull, boring, “un-skinned” Firefox, with a choice of any one of 180,000 cool designs.

The selections are wide ranging – from bands (All American Rejects, No Doubt, Lady Gaga, Bob Marley, ….), to movies (Harry Potter, Fame, ….), favorite causes (Greenpeace, ….), and much, much more.

So, when regular reader TeX, tipped me off to one of his new finds, Google Redesigned, a Firefox add-on which changes the look and feel of Google services, I had to give it a try.

Supported services:


Google Reader

Google Docs

Google Calendar

How It Works:

The extension loads a collection of independently maintained CSS files which are saved to your web browser’s cache. These CSS files then overwrite the default styling used by Google.

The following screen captures will give you a good idea of the “Before and After”. Click on a graphic to expand to original.

Gmail – un-skinned.


Gmail – skinned.


Google reader un-skinned.


Google reader skinned.


System requirements: Firefox 3.6 – 4.0. The theme also works with SeaMonkey 1.0 – 2.0a1, and Thunderbird 1.5 – 3.2a1pre.

According to the developer, a Chrome extension is in the works.

Download at: Mozilla

Following installation, a restart is required.

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Filed under Browser add-ons, downloads, Firefox Add-ons, Freeware, Google, Google Software

Free GooReader – Making It Easy To Read Google Books On Your PC

Popular guest writer Rick Robinette, the “Mighty Freeware Hunter”, is back again with another terrific freeware find – GooReader.

GooReader is a free desktop application that allows you to search, download and read books and magazines available on Google Books.

Here’s Rick’s review:

Reading on a PC is just not the same as reading from a book or magazine. I guess it is part of the generation that I was raised with, but there is something about turning that page and the feel of that book. I always envisioned the day when I could read a book on my computer screen and turn the pages in a similar manner as a real book.

Well today is the day where this vision is coming true. I recently went on the hunt for a reading application that would allow you to read a book (or magazine) on your computer where the pages appeared to actually turn. What I came across, that closely meets my criteria, is a Google Books reader called GooReader.


If you are not familiar with Google Books, it is an online collection of millions of books from libraries and publishers worldwide using Google Book Search

GooReader provides a sweet interface for reading publicly available books and magazines on Google Books. Instead of awkward page scrolling in your browser you can get pleasure of reading on your desktop in the same way as you read hardcover books or paperback magazines. With natural mouse moves you can turn over pages, zoom in and out, jump to the needed TOC item.


You start using GooReader by entering a search criteria in the search box that is directly tied into Google Books Search.  If you notice above, I performed a search for Windows 7 and the books started appearing on the shelf.  You can select a book from the shelf to read full screen if you like, zoom in, zoom out AND turn the pages like a real book. The controls to turn the pages and perform these other functions are located at the bottom of the pages.

In GooReader the search results are represented as 3D book models on a bookshelf. You can setup the number of search results and the scale of the bookshelf. The program can search online books by title, author or keyword that can be used in its description or content. If you want to read or save specific book, you can simply enter its Book_ID and open it in Gooreader.


Sometimes you may need to print Google Books or read them offline when you don’t have the internet connection. Besides, most people love to read books on mobile devices (like iPad) or popular e-Book readers (like Sony Reader, Kindle or Nook). In this case the PDF format is a perfect solution. GooReader allows to automatically save publicly available books and magazines to PDF files (please read the FAQ for details). Note that this feature is available in paid version.

GooReader works only on Windows XP/Vista/7 and requires .Net Framework 3.5 SP1 installed. You do not need a Google login account to access these books; all books and magazines on Google Books are available for unregistered users.

This is a guest post by Rick Robinette, who brings a background as a security/police officer professional, and as an information technology specialist to the Blogging world.

Why not pay a visit to Rick’s site at What’s On My PC. Like me, you’re sure to become a frequent visitor.

If you found this article useful, why not subscribe to this Blog via RSS, or email? It’s easy; just click on this link and you’ll never miss another Tech Thoughts article.


Filed under Digital Media, downloads, Freeware, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Multimedia Tools, Software, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Free Phone Calls From Gmail – Yes It’s Free, But Is It Any Good?

image If you live in North America, you’ll know that “FREE” is one of the most overused, and undefined words – ever. Free, has so many variables attached, that it’s virtually worthless as a descriptor.

If you don’t live in North America, it’s still probable that the same conditions apply where you live, as well.

Despite the fact that “free”, is a very uncertain term, and despite the fact that we’ve all aware of that old expression – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, advertisers continue to appeal to our lower instincts by crafting entire campaigns around “FREE”.

So last week, when Google announced “free” phone calls to “actual phones”, not just PC to PC (including long distance), from within Gmail, in both Canada and the US, my natural sense of skepticism kicked in.

Being the old cynic that I am, I immediately thought –

It’s got to be a hassle. Well I couldn’t have been more wrong. Google Voice is the easiest VOIP application I’ve ever used. Even easier to use than my long time favorite VOIP application – Skype.

Voice quality has gotta suck. Wrong again! Voice quality beats my home phone quality – hands down. In fact, if you’re a speakerphone user, I’ll wager that this application will be an improvement.

It isn’t really free. By now, I was a little tired of being wrong but, I was wrong again! Google’s free phone calling feature in Gmail is, well, FREE – at least until the end of 2010.

Setup couldn’t be easier. Highlight “Call Phone”, in your Gmail chat menu.


Then, just download and install the voice and video application from the next screen. The installation app will automatically calibrate your devices. Alternatively, you can choose to self calibrate.


Following installation, you’ll notice that the “Call phone” icon has changed to green – from the previous gray.


Clicking on the Call phone icon will open a phone keypad, as the following screen capture shows.


Choose your Country, (Canada or the US for the moment), input the phone number – either with your mouse, using the onscreen keypad, from your keyboard, or your Gmail contact list. Click on “Call”, and voila! – you’re connected. Incidentally, the application will automatically save your call history.


Incoming calls:

The service provides a US phone number (not yet available in Canada – but it’s on the way), chosen by the user from available numbers in selected area codes.


US or Canadian based Gmail users only – for the time being.

A Gmail account.

Web Cam and Speakers (I found this the easiest setup), or

Microphone and Speakers, or


Download: From within Gmail.


Explore some of the most popular features of Google Voice by watching these videos:


  • Overview
  • Voicemail transcription
  • One number
  • Personalized greetings
  • International calling
  • SMS to email
  • Share voicemails
  • Block callers
  • Screen callers
  • Mobile app
  • Conference calls

I must admit, I’m very enthusiastic about this new service from Google. I find it very convenient, and it’s already saved me some cash in long distance fees.

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Filed under Business Applications, Communication, downloads, Freeware, Gmail, Google, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Software, Video Apps, Video Calling, VOIP, Windows Tips and Tools

Google Pack Software – The Good, the Bad and the Useless

Google Pack 2 The applications offered in Google Pack are an interesting compilation of  freebies – some of them are quite useful and  worthwhile adding to your system. On the other hand, some of them are not only useless, but are potentially hazardous to your system security.

The good:

Google Chrome Web Browser:


Google has developed an impressive browser with a focus on speed strong integrated search features. I’ll stick with Firefox though since I find Chrome just a little too simply for the type of work that I do. Some consider Chrome the safest browser available, but this conclusion is definitely subjective.

Google Apps:


Cloud computing is where it’s at, or soon will be, according to the futurists. Personally, I think the jury is still out.

Google though, has tied its wagon to the concept of cloud computing, and  Google Apps reflects this direction. Using this collection of online (cloud based) applications you can plan (Calendar), stay in touch (Gmail), and collaborate (Docs). Since these are cloud based apps you can reach them from anywhere you have an Internet connection.

I should point out that Google Apps are available for business and education. Both are enhanced versions of the free personal version.

Note: Google will soon be releasing Google Wave, an additional online tool for real-time communication and collaboration. For more information on Wave, checkout Scoroncocolo TechPages.

Spyware Doctor with Anti-Virus:


The version of the highly regarded Spyware Doctor with Anti-Virus included in Google Pack, does include full scan and remove capabilities, scheduled scans, database updates, but only limited real-time protection from both spyware and viruses.

I’ve reviewed this application a number of times, and consider it an outstanding secondary scanner. However, I do not recommend that you use this restricted version as a primary defense against malware, because of its limited real-time protection .



Some might say that Picasa is the best free piece of photo managing and editing software you can find. Up to a point I agree. As a basic photo manager and viewer, it’s pretty terrific.

Bonus features include a full complement of editing tools, supplemented with the ability to create photo CDs, photo collages, screensavers, and posters. Not bad for a free application!

Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar:


If you’re looking for  a Browser that you can customize to your hearts content, then download Firefox. There are literally thousands of totally free ways to customize Firefox to meet all of your personal needs. The big advantage to Firefox, in my view, is the ability you have to customize this Browser with security add-ons that raise the security bar substantially.

P.S. Forget about the Google Toolbar.



Skype has become my preferred method of contact. I use the free Skype video calling feature, dozens of times a day to speak with contacts worldwide.

In its basic form, Skype is a free communication package, using proprietary code, which allows users to make free computer to computer calls, including video calls, across the globe. As well, there are a bundle of additional features, that can be purchased at a low cost, which will expand the application’s functionality.

Google Talk:


Google Talk is a cool application that includes Instant messaging, PC-to-PC voice chat , the ability to send, receive and leave voicemails,  along with unlimited file transfers (no file size or bandwidth restrictions).

Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I prefer single purpose applications, and I would choose Skype over Google Talk.

Google Earth 5:


I couldn’t say it better than Google so, “Google Earth lets you fly anywhere on Earth to view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, from galaxies in outer space to the canyons of the ocean. You can explore rich geographical content, save your toured places, and share with others”.

This is truly an amazing piece of technology – I just never get tired of it!

The bad:

Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer:


I have seen machines with more than 20+ installed toolbars, and this type of nonsensical download is one of the reasons why. Another toolbar? Lord help us!

Google Desktop:


According to Google with desktop installed you can – “Find all your email, files, web history, and more. Get all your personalized info in one place with Sidebar”. So what could be wrong with that?

Well, if privacy and security is a concern – plenty. eSecurity Planet has a great article that exposes the major downside of installing this “spyware” on your computer. If you’re considering installing this program, I encourage you to checkout “Google Desktop: Next Big Thing or Dangerous Tool?”, first.

The ugly:

Adobe Reader:


Without a doubt, one of the most hacked pieces of  software – ever! That’s bad enough, but Adobe, for all intents and purposes, seems not to care. On top of that, this application is the very definition of “bloatware”.

Don’t even consider this program. Instead, choose one of a number of much faster, more streamlined free application such as Foxit Reader, for Firefox, or Sumatra PDF Viewer for Windows.



If you need a clunky, slow, ugly player, and you are the type of person who likes to be nagged constantly, then this application will give you what you want. If you think I’m being tough on this piece of crap, then read PC Mag’s “The 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time”.

VLC Media Player, on the other hand, an open source cross platform application, is a long recognized superior performer that gives you frame-by-frame advancement, granular speed controls allowing for on-the-fly slower or faster playback, and live recording of streaming video.VLC offers support for a wide range of video and audio formats, including OGG, MP2, MP3, MP4, DivX, HD codecs like AES3, Raw Dirac, and even support for playing back zipped files.

Google Apps System requirements: Windows XP, Vista Win 7

Google Pack

Download at: Google

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Filed under Cloud Computing Applications, Freeware, Google Chrome, Google Pack, Google Software, Image Editors, Multimedia Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Spyware - Adware Protection, Windows Tips and Tools

Google Operating System – Not Just a Rumor!

Google Chrome OS announced: Google takes on Windows

Google Chrome Logo

A Google operating system has been one of the web’s most consistent rumors for years, but today Google announced it is real: Google Chrome OS will be launched next year, going head to head with Windows.

Announcing the existence of the Google Chrome OS today, Sundar Pichai, Google’s vice president of product management and Linus Upson, Google’s engineering director said it would be “our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.”

Promising the Chrome OS will be open source, lightweight and speedy, Google also pledges that Chrome OS will “start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds.”

Read the rest of this article at

Comments Off on Google Operating System – Not Just a Rumor!

Filed under Alternatives to Windows, Freeware, Google, Google Chrome, Google Operating System, Google Software, Interconnectivity, Operating Systems, Productivity Software, Software, Tech Net News

Ten Beginner Tips for Using Google SketchUp

Guest writer Megan Jones takes you on a tip trip with Google SketchUp.

Whether you want to design a new addition to your house, plan your landscaping or just make a drawing for fun, Google SketchUp offers wonderful functionality for creating 3D models. Even better, it’s completely free. If you’d like to try your hand at designing with the program here are some simple tips to help get you started.


  1. Learn the keyboard shortcuts. Keyboard shortcuts can save you a lot of time whether you’re using a complex program or just browsing the internet. That’s why it can be beneficial to learn what the major ones are in Google SketchUp, and you can find a list here. If you want to customize, you can even set your own.
  2. Watch tutorials. You can learn a lot of the basics of SketchUp by watching some of the great tutorial videos out there. These will help explain things and also show you exactly how each tool works. Google offers a great collection on their site.
  3. Customize. Whether you want to customize your shortcuts as mentioned earlier or your toolbar, it’s important to get things set up to your liking. SketchUp doesn’t have a lot of toolbars to start out with, so go through and pick out the ones that will be most important like Layers, Standard and Tool Set.
  4. Use the docking feature. Inevitably there will be features of SketchUp that you will use more regularly than others. You can keep these out by simply dragging and dropping them into the upper right.
  5. Download premade objects. Unless designing objects is your goal, you can save yourself a lot of time by using Google’s Bonus Packs or finding user generated material to use in your models.
  6. Edit premade objects. You can customize any of the items you use from components like stairs, counters and bathtubs if they’re not to your liking. Hit edit/component/explode and you’ll be able to tinker with all the individual parts.
  7. Use layers. Much like in PhotoShop, using layers in SketchUp can make certain tasks a whole lot easier and can make your models much clearer and easier to work with. Read up on how to use layers and make the most of them in your designs.
  8. Learn how to move objects. For the most part, the program is fairly intuitive when moving things around, but if you’re struggling, as sometimes happens, then try using the keyboard to help. The arrow keys reflect the direction, and shift can lock in movement along a particular plane.
  9. Be creative. For a free program, SketchUp has a lot of juice to it and you can use it for a wide range of applications. Try out new things like scaling your drawings from a photo or designing crafts or other fun projects.
  10. Have fun. Even if you want to learn how to make serious models with SketchUp, playing around with it before you read a manual or get down to business can be a good idea. You’ll be more willing to try things out and you may even learn a thing or two.

Download SketchUp at:

This post was contributed by Megan Jones, who writes about the online college degree. She welcomes your feedback at Meg.Jones0310 at


Filed under Drawing Software, Freeware, Google, Google Software, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools